medical ethics

Peter Vibert (
Thu, 30 May 1996 15:36:07 -0400

Kenneth Feucht wrote (5/16/96):

> "It is difficult for a
>concerned physician to sit back and allow others determine our own
>destiny, and determine our "ethics" of the practice of medicine. If
>physicians did such a thing to scientists, engineers, or academicians,
>you would raise an eyebrow and question the source of the activity as
>making the ethical inquiry in part illigitimate. It is not that people
>from other areas of expertise help clarify issues, but I do resent when
>I hear people like Nigel deCameron of Trinity Evang. Sem. suggest that
>medical ethics is too important to leave into the hands of physicians."

- As I catch up on hundreds of pieces of mail (lots of good ASA stuff
worth reading!), Kenneth Feucht's comments rang a bell because this issue
has been discussed at length on one of the "biomedical ethics" listservers
I subscribe to. The point made strongly by some is that in a society where
there is no longer a single ethic that commands people's respect (including
people in the medical profession), it becomes essential to identify as
clearly as possible exactly what ethical basis is being used by the person
with whom one is dealing - eg. one's physician or one's patient in the
profession under discussion here (Kenneth Feucht says the same thing
elsewhere, I think).

Since many (most/all?) decisions about medical care have a significant
ethical component; there are no longer any authoritative "ethical experts"
to whom people turn, and everybody's "ethics" differ, it follows that
physicians cannot expect to have a monopoly on medical ethics. In fact
there may often be other parties with important ethical insights to offer
into what are considered "medical decisions". So with all respect to Dr.
Feucht's sense that his professional territory is being invaded, I believe
Nigel DeCameron and others are correct that in this society, medical ethics
has become too difficult and too important to leave to the physicians. It
may be little comfort, but the same is now true of other professions
(including basic science, law, etc.).

In short, none of us can now be trusted, as we are not guided by a
professional or public ethic that assures others that (for the most part)
we are 'doing the right thing'. As Christians I don't think it's hard to
understand such public reactions.


Peter J. Vibert
Senior Scientist Interim Pastor
Rosenstiel Basic Medical The Congregational Church
Sciences Research Center in North Chelmsford
Brandeis University 15 Princeton Street
PO Box 9110, Waltham, MA 02254 N. Chelmsford, MA 01863

tel: (617) 736-4947 tel: (508) 251-1261
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